Every time you visit a doctor, they measure your key indicators: temperature, blood pressure, pulse, blood oxygen level, etc. This is done for a reason – an experienced physician is able to assess the patient’s health condition by combining these parameters with other symptoms. Of course, it’s not about making a final diagnosis, but measuring the basic parameters at least helps to determine whether the patient’s life is in danger at that moment.
Unfortunately, even the best physician cannot constantly monitor the patient’s condition outside the clinic. That is why wearables capable of broadcasting key physical indicators of a person are becoming more and more popular and in-demand in modern healthcare. In this article, we will analyze examples of their application and try to assess the prospects for using connected devices in the near future.
Better results with less effort
Recently, we’ve published articles about the prospects for TeleMedicine and about popular services for it. Now it’s time to talk more about some of the solutions. By combining TeleMedicine services with wearable devices, it is possible to monitor a patient’s vital signs constantly, not just during a televisit. The transmission of key indicators is valuable because it not only allows a specialist to track the patient’s condition at the given moment but also provides a large database for further diagnosis and treatment.
For example, a platform developed by The Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust provides a means for obtaining data on blood pressure, pulse, and other parameters of patients through wearable devices. Also, the medical service reminds patients with chronic heart failure to regularly fill out the observation questionnaire. All data is sent to a Specialist Nurse through the Care Co-ordination Centre.
Thanks to the use of the system, the total time of patients’ stays at the hospital has reduced by more than 50%. The number of patients requiring continuous care has dropped from 48% to 21%.
Options for the use of wearable devices
The opportunities offered by TeleMedicine devices are not limited to the simple measurement of basic biometric indicators. Apart from non-invasive devices, some cases require high-tech implants to be inserted into the patient’s body, which will help to better control their health condition. This is especially helpful for patients with diabetes, cardiovascular and kidney diseases, etc. Today, the greatest development is happening in remote IT solutions for combating diabetes and cancer care. There is growing evidence that digital health solutions for monitoring symptoms and collecting patient-reported outcomes (PROs) provide clinical benefits to cancer patients and are also good for health economics.
Patients with diabetes (who continue to grow in number) need constant monitoring of blood glucose level (also known as blood sugar) so that it doesn’t go beyond the norm (excess glucose “spoils” the patient’s microvessels and shortens life). In order to measure blood sugar, a patient pricks their finger, gest a drop of blood, touches the drop with a test strip that is embedded into a portable device (glucometer), and gets the result which then needs to be written down somewhere. This is somewhat long and inconvenient.
A revolutionary solution is a CGM – a compact medical system that continuously monitors blood sugar levels in more or less real time. Practically, it works as follows. A sensor, a little smaller than a watch battery, is pasted on a patient’s body (usually on a back of a shoulder). The sensor’s microtube gets inserted into the body, which constantly measures the level of glucose. Data is collected in a sensor and wirelessly transmitted to a smartphone (as a rule). Then, special software analyzes this data, builds graphs of glucose levels per day, shows how long the level was beyond the norm, etc. Therefore, the doctor has more information to analyze and make the right therapeutic response.
A hybrid patient care model (a combination of telehealth and in-person treatment) gives the possibility to control the risks of deterioration of the patient’s condition during the transition period – when the patient is discharged from a hospital. Also, this is the time when the side effects of treatment may appear. Equipping patients with wearables and monitoring their health in real time can shorten hospital stays and make room for others. For example, MSK Cancer Center used wearable devices to make sure there were no additional risks from COVID-19 for cancer patients sent to home treatment.
Software for the efficient operation of wearables
Regardless of the purpose of wearable medical device usage, the uninterrupted access of healthcare specialists to patient data is paramount. The quality of data extracted and transmitted essentially depends on the quality of software in a device.
An effective IT solution that connects wearable devices to a care provider is designed to perform the following functions:
- Configuration of the device to the specific needs of a patient.
- Registration of the device, setting up a data transmission channel and a telemetry connection that transmits the data to the provider’s systems.
- Data verification.
- Data filtering, sampling.
- Displaying specific data on a dashboard integrated to a nurse station or EMR.
- Data analytics.
There are no ideal off-the-shelf solutions for wearable-based TeleMedicine, which would include all the necessary functionality. All you can find on the market are ready-made healthcare systems with a small set of functions. In order to get a solution that satisfies all patient requests, healthcare organizations have to develop it in-house or outsource the development to third-party contractors. After the software solution is developed and integrated, the support and maintenance of the system will be required.
We can expect that the ability to track patient health indicators will ensure a better and more personalized level of healthcare in the future. After all, the normal pulse rate or blood pressure, for example, differs from person to person and depends on many factors. Devices capable of reading multiple indicators and enhanced by AI will allow for faster diagnosis and more effective treatment including care provided in a remote setting.